COMMUNIST parties have been in the spotlight over the last few days in both the Slovak and Czech Republics.
The Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) held its fifth congress on June 26 and 27, at which party leadership seems to have effectively silenced internal opposition. The event caught media attention thanks to expectations of Communist infighting.
However, re-elected party chairman Jozef Ševc seems to have handled preparations for the party gathering well, and critics were not given a chance to thwart the potentate's ambition for power or even voice their objections.
The fall of the Czech government made the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) a potentially decisive player in the country's political future, as it is not yet certain whether a new cabinet will also rely on the votes of KSČM MPs, or even have any involvement in the administration, according to both analysts and politicians cited by the Czech media.
Both the Czech and Slovak communist parties share a common past. The founding congress of a unified Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ) took place in 1921 and took up arms against unemployment, whereby growth of the labour unions and a socialist revolution were the party's key priorities.
Communists emerged from World War II as one of the leading political forces in Czechoslovakia, as was the case in other countries that had also been freed by the Soviets.
However, their position was not identical in both parts of the country. In the Czech part, the KSČ came out victorious from the general elections in 1946, after gaining over 40 percent of the votes. In contrast, the Democratic Party (DS) won the elections in Slovakia with a 62 percent majority, leaving the Communists far behind, who received only 30 percent support. The result of the 1946 elections later led some to blame the Czechs for opening the door to the totalitarian regime introduced by the Communists.
The 1960s and 70s brought communist leaders from Slovakia into the forefront.
First, Alexander Dubček and his concept of "humane socialism" came to symbolise a softening of the local regime. The process was suffocated by the Soviet-led military intervention in Czechoslovakia in August 1968. The subsequent increased oppression occurred under Gustáv Husák and Vasil Biľak, who is the father-in-law of the current KSS head Ševc.
After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the two parties took different paths. In Slovakia, the KSS became the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) in 1991, changing not only its name, but also its orientation in an attempt to become a modern socialist party.
The SDĽ and a number of its spin-offs remained a prominent political force for a number of years. The 2002 parliamentary elections, however, disqualified the divided and discredited SDĽ from further presence in parliament.
The party that is today known as the KSS was formed only in 1992 and first entered the legislature some 10 years later.
In the Czech Republic, where the modern left is represented by the ruling Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), the KSČM is a legal successor of the communist-era KSČ.
The KSS received 6.32 percent of the votes in the 2002 elections. Following the departure of one MP from its caucus, it now has 10 MPs in parliament.
In the elections for the European Parliament (EP) the Slovak Communists were not successful, gaining a mere 4.54 percent of the vote, falling short of the statutory minimum to qualify into the EP. If general elections were held in early June, the KSS would no longer be represented in parliament, according to a survey the Statistics Office released on June 18, 2004.
As the Slovak Communists continue their backbiting, support for the KSS can be expected to further decrease and their already marginal position on the game-board of Slovak politics will most-likely not improve.
In the Czech Republic on the other hand, the KSČM is in much better shape. The party gained 18.5 percent support in the parliamentary elections of 2002, the third best result. Moreover, 6 out of the Czech Republic's 24 MEPs will be representing the KSČM. Only one party achieved a better result in those elections.
It is true that Slovakia is in no way free of former servants of the communist regime. All three presidents that Slovakia has had so far were communists in the past; communists are widely represented in the administration and hold top seats in numerous parties, including pro-reform ones.
However, these people are no longer glued together by communist ideology, as is best documented by the wide range of parties they are in now and the often conflicting interests they represent.
One is tempted to believe that many of those individuals may have initially joined the Communist Party for personal profit, rather than out of conviction in the party's regime.
The opposition party Smer, the only significant political force that comes anywhere close to a leftist stance, can be accused of many things, but supporting the communist cause is not one of them.
In other words, communist ideology is no longer relevant in the struggle for power, as is the case in the Czech Republic. In this aspect, Slovaks are well ahead of the Czechs.
There are a number of possible reasons why this is the case. One is tradition - the number of industrial workers, the Communists' core constituency, was never as high in rural and less-industrialised Slovakia as it was in Bohemia.
Another is religion. According to a 2001 census of the Statistics Office, only 13 percent of Slovaks claim to be of no religious conviction. But as many as 59 percent of Czechs share this worldview, according to a census of the Czech Statistics Office done in the same year.
Slovaks therefore had, and continue to have, greater problems accepting the communist regime, characterized by religious oppression, than their Western neighbours. And the Catholic church is able to voice anti-communist sentiment to a much larger, and more attentive audience here than in Bohemia.
Finally, the modest support of communism in Slovakia can be attributed to a desire for national self-determination, which never had a chance to succeed under communist rule, as it did in the preceeding and subsequent periods.
In its most immediate history, Slovak society has certainly had more flirts with totalitarianism, demagogy, and oppressive rule than were ever witnessed in the Czech Republic. But support for communism is unlikely to ever reach the dimensions it has grown to in the Czech half of the former Czechoslovakia.
By Lukáš Fila
6. Jul 2004 at 0:00